Is This Really Boston’s Next Media Mogul?
Early on, Portnoy registered the official BarstoolSports.com domain name. “I figured I should have a website, because that’s what everybody was doing,” he says. Still, it was three years before the site went live, and the first version was almost comically simple. It featured nothing but PDFs of the print version’s latest issue. Before long, a Barstool fan named Ian White, who worked at a Web design firm in New York City, reached out to Portnoy. “If I build you something, where you can just cut and paste content, would you use it?” White asked. Barstool Sports as people know it today was born.
That website is basically a virtual frat house, a place of uncensored, intemperate, often sexist stream-of-consciousness chatter among relatively well-educated 25-year-old guys. The writing is vulgar, lowbrow, over the top, and full of expletives. It can also be oddly addictive, with one sophomoric headline (“Burning Question #24 Answered: Who Wins a Fight Between a Grown Woman and a Midget”) followed by another (“No Big Deal…Just a Huge Ass Mysterious Missile Spotted Off the Coast of California”). “People would probably disagree, but I think we invented a genre of website that is sports/smut,” says Portnoy.
The site’s sports coverage — ostensibly its area of expertise — is a direct reflection of the office water-cooler sensibility. In the Barstool universe, Shaq’s free-throw percentage is far less important than how the Celtics center dressed up like “Shaquita” for Halloween, or how Steven Tyler — and not longtime stalwart Rene Rancourt — sang the national anthem at the Bruins home opener. Regular readers check in to find out the latest on Tom Brady’s hair, not his arm. “Trust me, I know our writing isn’t good. We’ll never be able to write like [ESPN.com’s “Sports Guy” columnist] Bill Simmons,” Portnoy says. “But Bill Simmons will never be able to do what we do, either.”
Portnoy, or at least his alter ego, is one of the biggest draws of the site, and he is the first to admit that El Prez is an uncouth and chauvinistic character, one who objectifies women, ridicules his readers, refers to his interns as “slaves,” and tells visitors to “Keep Reading Bitches.”
The other draw is, of course, the pictures of women. Lots and lots of women, usually displayed in various stages of undress. Each morning, Portnoy posts photos of an up-and-coming actress or model under the tag line “Wake Up with…” In the afternoon, another girl gallery is posted, this time featuring one local “smokeshow,” i.e., a girl who’s “smoking” hot. To decide who makes the cut, El Prez wades through 20 to 30 e-mail nominations a day from college kids all around New England; self-nominations are almost as common as referrals. Once Portnoy settles on a winner, he gets her permission to post several photos, which are usually pulled from the woman’s Facebook page. Kelly from UNH. Marika from Brown. Hannah from Simmons. Enlightened? No. Effective? Yes.
The smokeshows have become the signature feature of Barstool Sports, a brand-name product. “I’d say he’s definitely cornered the market on smokeshows,” says A. J. Daulerio, editor of Deadspin, one of the most popular sports websites in the country. The scantily clad coeds are both the gateway drug to Barstool Sports and a key component of Portnoy’s expansion plans. It’s easy to picture Lauren from OSU, or Julie from FSU, or Shannon from Cal anchoring a Barstool Sports site in Columbus, Tallahassee, or Berkeley.